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Cavs 107, Knicks 104: “Complete with a little ultratanking”

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The Knicks set a franchise record with their 17th consecutive loss

NBA: New York Knicks at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Seventeen losses in a row. Seventeen. The last time the Knicks won a game we were talking ourselves into what this team would look like once a certain overgrown Latvian came back into the mix. Times have changed, but the Knicks’ commitment to shooting themselves in the foot en route to increasingly frustrating losses hasn’t.

Last night was as good a chance of winning a game as the Knicks have had during this stretch against a similarly horrible team. Yet the Knicks were down by eight within the first three possessions of the game, forcing David Fizdale to call an early timeout. They responded by closing the gap to two, but never got over the hump and ended the half down 63-48.

A collective failure to corral defensive rebounds gave the Cavaliers numerous easy put-backs. On top of that, the Knicks were, once again, ice cold from beyond the arc while the Cavs shot 10-22 from three in the first half. That’s tuff.

They battled back in the second half buoyed by excellent play off the bench from Kadeem Allen and Mitchell Robinson. Allen had the best offensive game of his career leading the team with 26 points and six assists. Mitch did Mitch things, effectively limiting the Cavs’ opportunities at the rim and proving a handful on the offensive glass himself.

The Knicks entered the final frame down 10, but late cameos from Luke Kornet and John Jenkins saw them cut the lead down to one. Kornet even had the chance to give the Knicks the lead on an open three off of a gorgeous set play out of a timeout, but couldn’t quite get it over the front rim. Jenkins and Dennis Smith Jr. clanked their potential game-tying treys after a pair of Collin Sexton free throws, and the L was secured.

The Knicks really wanted a win last night. So did I. We don’t get to have nice things.

Notes:

  • Mitchell Robinson is my everything. With Frank Ntilikina out in what can generously be classified as an up-and-down season, and Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Knox struggling, Mitch has been a breath of fresh air. In particular, since returning from injury he’s been on a tear and drastically reduced his propensity for committing dumb fouls. In just 24 minutes last night he had 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. That’s good and more or less the level of production we’ve seen of late from him in limited minutes. Pretty sure he’s on some type of minutes restriction, but I would loooooove to see if he could scale up the production with more time on the floor before the season’s over.
  • Robinson has demonstrated a lot of growth recently in diving to the rim in pick-and-roll. He’s not leveling guys with screens, but he’s actually making contact on them to give the ball handler a bit of an advantage and he’s finding the right pace to two-step with his PnR partner and make himself available for a lob or pocket pass rather than just running to the rim as fast as possible. Last night in particular, he and Allen demonstrated a nice understanding. Of course it helps that Mitch has the catching radius of prime Randy Moss.
  • Kadeem Allen had himself a night. He was penetrating at will, finished well at the rim and flummoxed the Cavs with a variety of little push shots and floaters from mid-range. He knocked down a triple as well, a shot that — if he can take and make with more consistency — would open up a lot for him. Allen’s also versatile enough defensively to allow Fizdale to pair him in lineups alongside Smith Jr. He’s definitely earned his minutes in the rotation and looks an ideal mentor for Ntilikina. I know Fizdale loves Emmanuel Mudiay, but he really has to be the odd man out the rest of the way.
  • Kevin Knox stinks right now. That’s fine. I don’t think anybody is despondent over his inefficiency as a scorer. That was to be expected coming in as a rookie on a bad team asking him to operate as a primary or secondary scoring option. What’s particularly galling, though, is his bad decision making in the midst of the shooting slump he’s in. Stupid early clock mid-range pull-ups and head-down drives to the rim with little chance of success have become staples of his nightly performances. He did chip in with six rebounds and three assists, but an unnecessary pull-up triple and a drive to his left (on which he was stripped late in the game by David Nwaba) were big failures on his part. Yeah, he’s #Only19, but you want to see the decision-making improve, and right now it isn’t. He seems to be trying too hard to force his way out of a slump when he really needs to let the game come to him more naturally.
  • Dennis Smith Jr. is fucking weird, man. Two games ago he was full of swagger and verve in an efficient 31 point outing, but ever since, he seems totally devoid of confidence in his jumper and more glaringly from the free throw line. He bricked a pair on his only trip to the charity stripe last night, and when he was on the floor as the lone point guard he didn’t seem to have full command of the offense. To his credit, his offensive struggles didn’t impact his focus on defense, as he chipped in with two blocks — including one instance where he sonned Collin Sexton to death — and three steals. It’s also really nice that when he doesn’t have the perimeter game going, he can get to the rim and finish acrobatically. The kid is definitely worth investing time into, especially if/when the Knicks strike out in free agency.
  • Mario Hezonja had a thunder dunk over Marquese Chriss and his stupid fucking face. He also did a lot of dumb stuff early in the second half, which resulted in Fizdale pulling him from the game. I like Mario, but his head needs to be screwed back on.
  • Luke Kornet is the Knicks’ best shooter. He needs to play more. I don’t care if it means he has to play in two-big lineups next to DeAndre Jordan or Mitch and the Knicks have to play more zone. Find a way to get him at least 20 minutes a night, because for a team lacking in able 3-point shooters, he’s a necessity. What’s particularly great about him is he’s not just a spot-up threat. He can catch, turn and shoot on the move fluidly, a skill Fizdale took advantage of on a beautiful set play to pull the Knicks within one with just under a minute left.
  • John Jenkins came in and knocked down his first three shots. I like guys that can make shots, especially movement shooters. He should get minutes the rest of the year.
  • The Knicks played zone for a majority of the second half. They’ve done this quite a bit this year. I like it as a change of pace, but against Not The Cavs it’s probably not a great look over extended minutes. However, it does help in getting both Kornet and Mitch on the floor and I’m about that life. So I guess play zone all the time, actually.
  • I have no fucking idea what Matthew Dellavedova shoots from the field, but I swear to God that he never misses that stupid fucking floater when he plays the Knicks. Eat shit, Delly.
  • Marquese Chriss is shooting 28% from three on the season, so of course he went 2-3 from beyond the arc against the Knicks last night.
  • The Knicks are bricking a lot of shots, but it seems like they’re actually getting better shots and the ball has been moving better of late, particularly in the games since “The Trade.” Defense has also been better. For a team that’s lost this many games in a row, I’ve actually been encouraged by their recent play. I’m also maybe grasping at straws?

So the Knicks lost another game they probably could have, and, this time, really should have won. Quoth Things Will Be Better Next Year: “Complete with a little ultratanking.” Indeed. The tank should be in fine form when the Knicks square off against the Philadelphis 76ers on Wednesday. The ultratank rolls on.